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Divergent evolutionary trajectories of bryophytes and tracheophytes from a complex common ancestor of land plants

By Brogan J Harris, James W Clark, Dominik Schrempf, Gergely J Szöllősi, Philip Donoghue, Alistair M Hetherington, Tom A Williams

Posted 29 Oct 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.10.28.466308

The origin of plants and their colonization of land resulted in the transformation of the terrestrial environment. Here we investigate the evolution of the land plants (embryophytes) and their two main lineages, the tracheophytes (vascular plants) and bryophytes (non vascular plants). We used new fossil calibrations, relative lineage dating implied by horizontal gene transfer, and new phylogenomic methods for mapping gene family origins. Distinct rooting strategies resolve tracheophytes and bryophytes as monophyletic sister groups that diverged in the Cambrian, 515-494 Ma. The embryophyte stem is characterised by a burst of gene innovation, while bryophytes subsequently experienced a no less dramatic episode of reductive genome evolution in which they lost genes associated with the elaboration of vasculature and the stomatal complex. Overall, our analyses confirm that extant tracheophytes and bryophytes are both highly derived; as a result, understanding the origin of land plants requires tracing character evolution across the diversity of modern lineages.

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